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The Task

Play a solitaire version of Scrabble.

Scrabble is a board game in which players alternate placing letters on a 15 x 15 grid, forming words crossword-style and collecting points for each word. The rules for this solitaire version are the same as the rules for a conventional multi-player game, with some modifications (see below). If you aren't familiar with the rules for regular Scrabble or with Scrabble terms like premium square, tile, rack, bag and main word you might want to check out either or both of the following references before reading on:

You might also consider downloading the free Words With Friends app to your smartphone. WWF is essentially a Scrabble clone.

If you are familiar with the rules of Scrabble but don't have a freakishly eidetic memory, you'll find the following information necesssary:

  • The tile counts and point values of the 26 letters and the blank:
    Letter A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z Blank
    Tile Count 9 2 2 4 12 2 3 2 9 1 1 4 2 6 8 2 1 6 4 6 4 2 2 1 2 1 2
    Point Value 1 3 3 2 1 4 2 4 1 8 5 1 3 1 1 3 10 1 1 1 1 4 4 8 4 10 0
  • The locations of the premium squares (Double Letter, Triple Letter, Double Word & Triple Word):

              Scrabble board with Double Letter, Tripple Letter, Double Word and Triple Word squares colored in blue, green, red and orange, respectively

  • The bonus for playing 7 tiles in a single play (a "bingo") is 50 points.

  • The list of acceptable words is here. For those who care about such things, this list is the Collins lexicon.

The modifications that convert the rules for a 2-player game to those for this 1-player game are:

  • There is no rack. You may play tiles (up to a maximum of 7 per play) directly from the bag.
  • Since there is no second player, there is no alternating of turns. You continue to play words until either there are no tiles left or you can't make a play.
  • When you've made your last play, the values of the tiles left in the bag are subtracted from your score.

The Contest

You are to play a solitaire game of Scrabble, attempting to score as many points as possible. Submit (see How to Enter, below) a list of the plays you made.

You can submit more than one game, but if you do we count only your best game. There is no penalty for submitting multiple games.

See The Scoring System, below, to learn how we determine the winner.

The Guest Host for this contest is John Carpenter.

The Prize

First prize is your choice of any item from Bathsheba Sculpture worth up to $100. (Personally, I like the Klein Bottle Opener.)

How to Enter

Paste your game into the large box on the Submit page and click the Submit Entry button. Format your game as a comma-delimited list of plays. The format for a play follows standard Scrabble notation and is described below. Include spaces and line breaks anywhere (well, anywhere reasonable) to improve readability:

For example, to submit a game consisting of just 9 plays, you might enter the following. (Note that this game scores very few points because it leaves so many unplayed letters in the bag.)

H6  BURN  12,
10E LETS  13,
G4  ExAM  19,
4D  NOTED 16,
E3  WOO   12,
D1  LOAN  10,
1A  JAILS 36,
F6  TENSE 19,
G9  UTTER 11

As you can see, the notation for each play has 3 components:

  • the coordinates of the starting letter of the main word (rows are labeled 1-15, columns are labeled A-O; specify the row first if you are playing the main word horizontally and the column first if vertically),
  • the main word (where playing a blank tile use a lower case letter — elsewhere use upper case), and
  • the number of points you expect to get for the play — this information is optional but, if you include it, it will be validated.

The Scoring System

Your score is the sum of the points awarded for each play less the point values of unplayed tiles in the bag. For instance, the example game from the How to Enter section above would receive a score of 8 — that's 148 points for the 9 plays, less 140 points for the unplayed tiles.

If you submit more than one game, we use your best game.

If two entrants have the same score, we break the tie by giving preference to the entrant whose last improvement was submitted least recently.

Getting Your Questions Answered

First, check the FAQ section below. If you can't find the information you need there, send your question to the discussion group. If your question is of a personal nature, and not of general interest, send an email directly to Al Zimmermann.

The Discussion Group

If you think you might enter the contest, you should join the contest discussion group. You can join either by sending a blank email here or by visiting the group on Yahoo!. The discussion group serves two purposes. First, it allows contestants to ask for clarifications to the rules. Be aware that sometimes these requests result in changes to the rules, and the first place those changes are announced is in the discussion group. Second, the discussion group allows contestants to interact with each other regarding programming techniques, results and anything else relevant to the contest.

My Lawyer Would Want Me To Say This

I reserve the right to discontinue the contest at any time. I reserve the right to disqualify any entry or entrant for any reason that suits me. I reserve the right to interpret the rules as I see fit. I reserve the right to change the contest rules in mid-contest. In all matters contest-related, my word is final.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can teams enter the contest?

Yes, but there are some restrictions. Most notably, team members may not also submit solutions as individuals. An important corollary to this is that once you've submitted a solution as an individual, you no longer have the option to join a team. Contact me privately for instructions on how to form a team.

What information about my games can I share in the discussion group?

There are two types of information that you are forbidden to post. The first is specific games. The second is code. You may, however, discuss the algorithms you are using — especially if you don't mind helping your competition.

After I submit a game, the scorer shows me the game's "canonical representation". What is that?

After the scorer calculates your score it rotates your plays (if necessary) to ensure that the first play is horizontal, thus creating a standard representation for your game. Having canonical representations makes it easier to notice when two seemingly different games are fundamentally the same.